Monday, June 28, 2010

First solo IMC approaches to minimums. Scary.

It's been a long time. Flying has been understandably sporadic, and even though I'm theoretically working on my commercial license, the phase of that I'm on right now is to pass the written exam, which doesn't involve doing any actual flying. Besides, neither of the 172RGs with Advantage Aviation are available at the moment -- one's off the flight line entirely, and the other is seemingly constantly in maintenance.

In the mean time, my girlfriend's sister got an internship on Orcas Island, near Seattle (but closer to Victoria, BC, Canada), and we immediately planned a visit. And, my first thought was, why not fly there?

So I did some training in flying a Cessna 182, and we decided to take an older (a.k.a. cheaper) 182, N9870E, up to Washington. The plan was to take our bicycles in the plane and not rent a car, and just ride around Orcas Island. We did a test run of that plan a couple of weeks ago, renting out 9870E and bringing our bikes, and flying to Santa Rosa. It failed. We brought tarps to protect the plane's aging interior from the bikes, but we did not protect the bikes from each other. And besides, getting them in and out of the plane was a complete pain in the ass. Do not attempt this plan.

Also, N9870E had deteriorated a bit since the last time I'd flown it, most notably in that the magnetic compass was duct-taped in place. And, not very well, I might add -- it was actually hanging down. I guess the requirement is just that it's IN the plane, which it was, but no way was I about to fly into a potential IFR situation with a badly duct-taped-on compass. AND, also, the club put the plane in maintenance on the first day of our trip. This plan was not working out at all.

So, I managed to book a nice 172SP G1000, N16894, for the trip. The 172 will be slower, but the journey is part of the fun, right? I've spent the last week getting IFR current and night current, and basically getting my bearings about me when flying IFR. My instructor, Mark, and I went out to Half Moon Bay last Thursday, and flew a couple of approaches to minimums before breaking off for the missed approaches -- this was my first time actually HAVING to fly a missed!

Today was another first: I rented out N16894 and took it to Salinas, where the weather was reported as OVC070 (overcast at 700 feet). The VOR 13 approach has an MDA of 560 circling (which this would be, with 31 active), so it was right on the edge. As I planned my flight, filed IFR, pre-flighted the plane and readied myself for takeoff, I couldn't help but dwell on the fact that I had another first coming up -- I'd never flown an approach solo in actual IMC. In two years of being an instrument rated pilot, I'd never done that (weird, huh?).

So I was cleared KSNS via SNS direct, and eventually was given 7000 direct SNS. I was over the cloud cover, and cleared for the approach. The tower at Salinas had closed, so I was to make unattended airport style calls. I descended along the approach path, and just before I entered the clouds, I felt it: "So this is how, and when, I'm going to die." It was so strong, and I was so scared, I don't know how to describe it; all I knew was that I felt like this was it, like my time was done. Note that though I felt this way, I didn't actually *think* this way. My brain was busy telling me, "You know this, you can do this."

Well, I flew it pretty well. Actually I flew it pretty much perfectly -- in terms of technique, I was relying too much on the G1000 and not enough on my Time/Turn/Twist/Throttle/Talk technique, but I flew it really well. I made it down to my minimum, exactly on course, and couldn't see squat. I was shaking -- my arm was shaking holding the yoke. As I readied for the missed approach, though, I saw it -- Runway 13, right in front of me! I could've landed it! I executed the missed, and made my way to MARNA. As I climbed, my foot was shaking as it pressed the right rudder. I called NorCal Approach, and the act of communicating calmed me a bit; I think part of the stress of the approach was that I wasn't talking to anyone.

So I regrouped in the hold, and debated whether to do SNS GPS 13, or WVI LOC 02, eventually deciding on the latter (I kind of had to pee, so didn't want to go back to SNS, which was farther from home). After three rounds in the hold, I called Approach and made my request. He was friendly, which helped. I got vectors to the localizer course, and flew it perfectly (again, not TTTTTing enough, relying too much on the G1000, but flying it well) -- no shaking, no fear. I had some trouble holding the MDA, it was up and down, but as I crossed over the airport, I saw the runways. I think landing it would've been tough, if I'd wanted to, but it was interesting nonetheless. I executed the missed, a right turn back to SNS, and called Approach with my IFR request back to PAO.

I am SO glad that I did this flight. There is a pretty good chance I'll have to shoot an approach in actual IMC on our trip, and thank goodness I've now done it a couple of times on my own and have the confidence to do it. I'll do another flight tomorrow morning with Mark, but after tonight, I'm ready for the trip!

1 comment:

Kevin said...

Very cool.